By: Rev. Becky Brown
With Ash Wednesday right around the corner, I’ve been secretly getting excited for one of my favorite seasons in the church year. I love Ash Wednesday and I love Lent. There, I said it! I’m a complete liturgical geek. I have loved Ash Wednesday since I went to my first service before school when I was 16. It’s mysterious, powerfully holy, and strangely evangelistic (if you wear your ashes on your forehead all day at your high school.)
As I was wracking my brain as to what to write in this post, with the help of friends, I was reminded on a book I’ve had on my desk for about a year. It’s in the short stack of books that I hope to read cover to cover in the near future. It’s called City of a God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles. The entire book is her narration of her experiences taking ashes into the streets of San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood while dressed in a full cassock, conducting a liturgy with prayers, reading scripture, and singing hymns. She shares of her inspiration, “God’s blessing is everywhere. And so paying attention outside of church buildings - as well as inside church buildings - becomes a way to see God from different angles, uncovering more meanings. Whether in the midst of a literal city, or in the suburbs, or on a lonely mountainside, worship outside of church buildings allows a glimpse of the worlds the whole world, transformed.” How many of us have had experiences of God’s blessing at the summit of a hike, at the end of a week hiking with Wilderness Trail, at worship at the cross at Lake Junaluska, or in worship at the open door or pathways meal? Why not on Ash Wednesday too?
I’ve been fighting the urge to do something like Sara Miles and other pastors who take to the Streets with ashes. I’ve done it once before, but it was an entire morning of awkwardness with lots of people ignoring me or looking at me awkwardly with suspicion. It takes courage and boldness to do something like that, and do it well. Sara was called to worship on the streets because she wanted to engage others in relationship while acknowledging our common mortality, seeking repentance, that this is not the state God leaves any of us. God’s hope is that our lives are restored by grace. She writes “But I wanted so badly to get beyond the tastefully enclosed museum of religious life. I wanted to stand on a kind of holy ground that wasn’t curated by church professionals, where a burning bush could blaze forth in defiance of safety regulations and outside of regular office hours. I wanted to walk arm in arm with other people, listening for the strangeness and power of God’s voice in streets where the volume wasn’t going to be decorously muted, where we might find ourselves upset or offended, where we might truly see and know that all things are being brought to their perfection, by Him through whom all things were made.”
I’m feeling a stirring within me to so the same. Maybe not completely the same. I don’t own a cassock. I’m working toward becoming organized and gathering my courage. Would anyone like to join me? If so, text me, and let’s make a plan. 828.421.7033.